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LED Traffic Lights Are Dangerous During Snowstorms

Kathleen Thometz

Posted on November 30, 2018 21:00

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Hopefully the Departments of Transportation in snow prone regions are stockpiling incandescent bulbs for traffic lights!

Two days after our first snowstorm, I was driving 35 mph south on Willow Springs, a two-lane road. As I approached the intersection at 55th Street, which is four lanes, six at the intersection, if you include the left turn lanes. I looked up and didn't see any lights, so I continued to accelerate as I headed toward the intersection.

Then I notice someone stopped in the left turn lane, which I thought was strange since we had the right of way. I looked up at the light and noticed that it was completely encrusted with snow. I couldn't see red, green or amber but stopped anyway because of the person in the left lane. It was a good choice.

What's interesting to me is that I've been driving for thirty-eight years and I always obey the traffic signals, but when there appeared to be no signal, all bets were off. I don't ever recall encountering this situation. When a light isn't working, it is either blinking red and yellow or there is a police officer directing traffic. I can't explain why I was planning to drive through the intersection.

Later that morning I was heading down a residential street and almost blew through a snow-encrusted stop sign. I could see the shape of the sign, but not the color and perhaps that's the reason it didn't register as a stop sign at first. What is disturbing to me is that I was slow in registering the traffic signals in both situations.

That afternoon, I was once again driving on Willow Springs and had to detour because there was tons of police activity and I thought, "My God, someone probably went through that light." I later learned that there were several automobile accidents in the Chicagoland area due to snow-covered traffic signals.

There are lots of things going on here. One, we had experienced a very windy and bitter snowstorm with heavy, wet snow that encrusted trees, signs and signals and had not melted two days later. Two, more than fifty percent of the traffic signals in the US have been converted to LED bulbs. And guess what, because LED lights don't get hot, the bulbs are not melting the snow on the lights.

Three, this snowstorm only affected the north/south lights, so the east/west travelers had visible traffic lights and had no need to exercise caution when traveling through the intersections. I imagine that those people were stunned when the north/southers came barreling into the intersections, like I almost did.

But the scariest thing is that we must be so accustomed to the colors of the lights that when they were not visible, we feel comfortable heading into intersections, thinking we have the right of way. So what's the solution? I suppose municipalities could send out a crew to clean the lights, a police officer to direct traffic, or perhaps put the incandescent light bulbs back in the traffic lights.

Kathleen Thometz

Posted on November 30, 2018 21:00

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